The question that seems to have inspired Maite Conde's new book involves the power of silent film in Brazil's First Republic (1889–1930) to contribute to defining Brazil's national identity. As she argues, in contrast to the United States or Mexico, political and economic elites in Brazil used early cinema as a tool to put forward their visions of the modern nation. For example, Brazilian film narratives emphasized the new woman's traditional roles within a patriarchal society as wives and mothers. Instead of the rags-to-riches stories often told in the United States about female actresses, Brazilian fan magazines promoted female stars as innocent women from respectable families. While Conde mentions that cinema opened new professional possibilities for women, her main point is to show how traditional elites shaped the emergence and development of early cinema in Brazil.

Foundational Films fits into an exciting...

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